Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mmm, fresh seafood in Atlanta

And after a single post about Cleveland, I'm back to Atlanta! Well, only for a short visit over Christmas. In between catching up with old friends and eating my mom's amazing food, my sister pumpkin and I sneaked out for a nice dinner out. I'd heard from a ton of people how great The Optimist was supposed to be, so we finally tried it out.Plus, even though Cleveland is on a lake, getting fresh food here can be a challenge...

The restaurant is located on the West Side of Atlanta, pretty close to JCT Kitchen and Abattoir. It also has the same feel to it: converted warehouse that's now both modern and sophisticated at the same time. But what the restaurant is really known for is the seafood. It has a large selection of raw oysters, which we unfortunately couldn't try :( Instead, we got the tuna tartare as a starter. This dish was both innovative and delicious. It came with duck breast ham and SHAVED hardboiled egg on top. How often do you see shaved egg or duck breast ham?!?!?! And yes, that's ham made out of duck breast. I don't know how they made it, but it was amazing, with a rich flavor that I usually associate with spicy dried sausages. The creaminess of the egg was perfect with the fresh tuna, and the ham provided a punch of flavor and saltiness to the otherwise plain fish. The plate was also spotted with a black garlic reduction for an additional layer of flavor. A great start to the meal that matched my expectations for the restaurant, but set new expectations for the main course.

For entrees, I got red snapper with roasted cauliflower, and Pumpkin had swordfish with beans and capers. Unlike the creative appetizer, the entrees were just standard. Well, they were delicious, but there was nothing special about them. The cauliflower was just like any cauliflower I've had. On the bright side, the fish was fresh and well cooked. Mine was a little bland, but Pumpkin's swordfish was well flavored.

Because we had been eating copious amounts of food for a few days, we didn't get a dessert this time. One things that irked me, though, is that our waiter didn't even ask us if we wanted the check or a dessert menu. He simply placed the dessert menu on our table and walked away. I guess that's a good strategy to entice someone into getting dessert, but I didn't appreciate it. Indeed, I found the service a little lacking and not up to par, especially compared to the other great restaurants nearby. The waiter came and asked us for our order as soon as we were seated, before we could even look at the menu, but when it was time for the check, he was no where to be seen. I did like certain aspects of The Optimist, but it has some work to do before it can catch up with the other great restaurants in the area.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcome to Cleveland

Well, I've been in Cleveland for about three months now. I already settled into my new place in downtown, started the new job, have seen lots of snow and experienced COLD weather, but at the same time I've done a great deal of exploring of the city. Of course, that includes a great deal of eating out. A few places that stood out are mentioned below.

One of the first places I went to after moving in was Greenhouse Tavern, which is only a few blocks away from my apartment. I went there with my parents because I thought they would be excited about a place with a creative meat menu. One of the items is a whole pig's head!! I was sure my dad would want to order that. Instead, he scorned at it and got the hot wings.... Well, at least he said he liked them. My mom got the lamb burger. The burger was juicy and delicious, with strong, but not overwhelming lamb flavor. The fries that it came with were also crispy and great. I opted for the pasta because I didn't feel like having a large meat course. The pasta came with grilled tomatoes, pancetta and green beans in a black garlic sauce. It was relatively light and flavorful, but a tad dry. Still, I definitely want to go back to Greenhouse Tavern and get that pig's head!!

Another very memorable place was Lolita, which is owned by iron chef Michael Symon. I went there for my birthday with a group of friends, so we ordered several things. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of any of them :( My appetizer was dates with almonds and bacon. It was sweet and rather heavy, but definitely very delicious! The eggplant dip was on the lighter side, but also very good. It came with a wonderful flatbread that I couldn't get enough of. For entrees, a couple of us ordered the octopus and bone marrow risotto. I thought the dates were rich, but the risotto was rich on another level! After all, what can you expect from a creamy risotto, which already has an indulgent texture, after adding pure fat in the form of bone marrow to it? At the same time, it was still edible and very pleasant to eat. It did melt in my mouth. And because it was so rich, I could barely eat half of it and had dinner for the next day :) Finally, what very pleasantly surprised me at the restaurant was that they brought a dessert for me - meaning, it was free :) It was some kind of cake that had custard in the middle and caramelized pears on top. But it resembled a molten chocolate cake than a layer cake. The cake itself was spiced (probably with cinnamon, etc.) and very very moist because of the custard. It was simply outstanding - one of those desserts that make you eat them even though you're stuffed...

Based on these two places and lots of others, I'm very excited about living here and trying out more things. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Local flair in Minneapolis

Wow, so many things have changed over the last several months: I defended my graduate dissertation, graduate from school and moved to Cleveland for a new job. All of these things kept me busy and made me neglect my blog. But things are finally slowing down, so I'm back!

Today I'll quickly catch you up on some of the most memorable dining experiences I had recently. I'll start with a trip I took last fall to Minneapolis/St. Paul to visit Pumpkin there. It was still the beginning of fall, the leaves on the trees were all shades of yellow and red, the air was crisp, but still warm - PERFECT! Pumpkin had to work during the days when I was there, so I was left to explore on my own. I didn't mind it, though, because I got to rest and do whatever I want. In between going to parks and museums, I grabbed a few meals. I had a lot of fresh local food at a small cafe next to a lake (can't remember its name :( ) and the modern art museum. But the best meal of the trip was at Butcher and the Boar. I don't often eat meat, but when I do it's something special - as at the restaurant of a James Beard Award semifinalist.

In addition to Pumpkin, her roommate also joined us for dinner. We decided to share the sausage sampler because the restaurant is known for its sausages. The platter came with a pork, beef and boar sausage each, which was perfect for the three of us. We also got the beer-battered fries on the side. All the sausages were amazing. They were juicy and flavorful, each with its unique taste. The pork sausage was especially juicy, with what looked like pieces of cheese inside. It was my favorite. The fries were also perfect: crispy on the outside and soft inside.

Finally, the other place worth mentioning is a local ice cream chain called Sebastian Joe's. I have newfound appreciation for ice cream, especially small family brands that still make the ice cream by hand. They use the best ingredients, and usually have some unique flavors. Sebastian Joe's is one of those places. After a lot of deliberation - and tastings ;) - I got a scoop each of the Pavaroti and Spumoni flavors. I mean, where else have you heard names like these?? The Pavaroti was caramel and banana ice cream with swirled caramel, banana pieces and chocolate chips. The Spumoni is almond, lemon and orange ice cream with dried apricots and almonds. Both types were absolutely delicious. And even though the Spumoni had so many flavors mixed in, they were all balanced for an overall great taste.